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Maryniak, Bunn play key roles in Misericordia’s NCAA Division III baseball championship

There are 389 Division III baseball-playing members in the NCAA.

But since the NCAA began crowning national Division III champions in 1976, not one of the programs to win a national title was from Pennsylvania — until Thursday.

Misericordia, a school located in Dallas, Luzerne County, brought home the state’s first NCAA national title with a 10-6 victory over Wisconsin-Whitewater. The NCAA Division III World Series was held at Classic Auto Group Park in Eastlake, Ohio, the home of the Cleveland Guardians’ high-Class A affiliate, and while the big moment came only one state away, it was an out-of-this-world experience for Misericordia.

The Lehigh Valley and Berks County can feel a part of the title because Palmerton graduate Brock Bollinger, Gov. Mifflin product Connor Maryniak and Wilson West Lawn’s Gabe Bunn all played significant roles in the Cougars’ run to the top.

“For some teams, winning a national title isn’t one of your goals, but our program is held to a high standard and our goal was definitely to win the last game of the season,” Bollinger, a junior catcher, said. “We were in the World Series last year and last year we were just happy to be there among those last eight teams. But this year we came in with a chip on our shoulder and we really thought we could win it. And we came out and shocked the world.”

Thursday’s title-game win was the culmination of a long season that began Feb. 19. The Cougars finished 44-11 and won the MAC Freedom championship before moving on to win an NCAA regional it hosted in Dallas. They swept Christopher Newport in an NCAA Super Regional in Newport News, Virginia, to earn their second straight berth in the World Series.

Misericordia went 4-1 in the double-elimination portion of the World Series, beating Lynchburg twice to advance to the best-of-three final against Wisconsin-Whitewater. The Cougars won Game 1 by a 12-9 margin on Tuesday; after having Wednesday off they dropped Game 2 16-10 early Thursday before rebounding in Game 3.

“We had no doubt we’d bounce back,” Bollinger said. “We were 100% confident we would. When we got down by a lot [12-1] in that first game of the doubleheader on Thursday, coach pulled most of the starters. But our bench guys did a really good job of putting up runs and making them nervous and they had to use more of their bullpen and some of their better guys. Once that happened, we knew we had them and we were going to take care of business in Game 3.”

That business began early in the title game. Misericordia eliminated a lot of the suspense with seven runs in the first inning and made it 9-0 with two runs in the third. Bollinger got the hit parade started with an RBI double in the first inning. Bunn was 4-for-4 with three runs scored and three RBIs. Maryniak had a hit and scored a run and was the winning pitcher, working 7.1 innings with four earned runs and 11 hits allowed, two walks and two strikeouts.

Maryniak finished the year with an 11-3 record, 2.44 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 84.2 innings. He also hit .345 with 13 home runs, 28 extra-base hits overall and 70 RBIs.

“Connor plays shortstop when he’s not pitching and he and I kind of lead the infield,” Bollinger said. “He just has raw power. He can play both sides of the game really well. When he gets on the mound you know he’s going to compete and shove it on the other team. And there’s just something about him. He has that presence where you know he’s going to do well, he knows he’s going to do well and the other team knows he’s going to do well. There’s definitely some sense of swagger and confidence with him.”

Bollinger also had great things to say about Bunn, who fought back from a shoulder injury to rejoin the team and make significant contributions down the stretch.

“Once we kept rolling through the playoffs, he got healthier and healthier and took more swings,” Bollinger said. “They day before we left for the World Series he began taking live at-bats and coach really thought he could help us win a national championship and that’s what he did. He played really good defense at second base and had some really good offensive performances in making the all-tournament team.’

Bunn, who batted .300 for the season, was joined on the all-tournament team by Bollinger who had the best season of his collegiate career. He hit .356 with 26 extra-base hits and 52 RBIs. He started 54 of the team’s 55 games. He was first-team all-conference and first-team all-region.

“I’d have to say this was definitely my best year, not even just from an individual standpoint, but more as a group and having such a close-knit group,” he said. “We really showed out and shocked the world.”

Bollinger said the team emphasizes pitching and defense and described the Misericordia offensive style as “Coug Ball” with a lot of bunting and running.

“We want to drag the other team in the mud and we’re going to be the only team to come out of that mud,” Bollinger said. “We’re going to bury you and we’re going to let you know it.”

The team rode the bus back to campus Thursday night and held a celebration Friday where they let everyone know they were the best NCAA Division III baseball program in the nation.

And, Bollinger insists the Cougars aren’t done yet.

“We’re definitely going to be held at an higher standard by Coach [Pete] Egbert next year,” he said. “That’s all right with us. He not only makes you a better baseball player, but he also develops us as young men and gets us ready to go out into the real world and conquer much more than just baseball.”

To help prep for 2025, Bollinger and Maryniak are headed to Culpepper, Virginia, to play in the Valley League, a top-notch summer collegiate circuit. Bollinger had played for Northwestern Lehigh coach Brian Polaha and the Northern Yankees in the Blue Mountain League the last few years and said he loved it, but is looking for a new experience.

He said he is taking a week off to decompress after the lengthy college season and then will head to Virginia.

“Playing professional baseball is always in the back of my mind,” Bollinger said. “I honestly don’t know what my plan is beyond college at the moment. I guess it all depends on how my senior season goes and I am going to do what I can to make it a great senior season.”

But right now, he’s just trying to get accustomed to the description of national champion.

“We’ve got to come back down to earth at some point and get back to work,” he said. “Right now, we’re still riding that high and still soaking it in. It’s huge for Misericordia and the community of Dallas. To be the first Pennsylvania team to win a national title is pretty cool. That’s awesome as well. It’s about time Pennsylvania got some love. It’s a great state and now it has some hardware.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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